As a mediator, you are a third party who helps parties settle disputes or negotiate. Your business can focus on the private sector, or you can work with courts to conduct mandated mediations. Mediation represents a form of alternative dispute resolution that may be voluntarily enforced. Every dispute is not settled through mediation. Mediation is not the same as arbitration because arbitration results often are binding.
Research state-specific procedures. Each state maintains its own criteria either through statute or judicial regulations. For example, to receive referrals from a family court judge, you might have to complete a specific training program. Develop a system to stay informed about laws or rules that impact your business. For example, a new law might be enacted that increases the hours of continuing education courses that you must complete to maintain your business.
Complete requirements to obtain a license, if needed. You might have to become bonded, which establishes insurance coverage and minimizes personal liability such as for misconduct or negligence. For example, although your clients might sign waivers before the mediation begins, you might be liable for failing to maintain confidentiality about information that you learned during the mediation.
Establish your fee structure (e.g., hourly or flat rates) and gather supplies (e.g., a form that highlights mediation rules, letterheads or contract templates, business cards). Your rates should reflect your experience. Some mediators with corporate or legal backgrounds charge more than $500 per hour to handle business cases or $200 for personal injury cases. To gauge what mediators charge in your area, contact local court clerks or actual mediators and ask about mediation fees. Many mediations are held at the mediator’s office, which serves as a neutral place. If you work from home or part time, then search for buildings or offices that rent spaces (e.g., $100 for four hours using a small boardroom). If you live in a major city and rent space in a popular location, expect to pay more.
Contact a local Small Business Administration (sba.gov) or SCORE (score.org) office for free help in preparing a business plan and assessing financing needs as well as sources. Your start-up business expenses will depend on several factors, such as whether you work from home or hire any employees.
Gain practical experience. For instance, participate in free mediations to improve your skills. Nonprofit organizations like the Oakland Mediation Center (mediation-omc.org) offer opportunities to anyone interested in mediation. The Oakland Mediation Center charges different fees depending on the type of experience you need, such as $150 for a 10-hour internship or $300 for 20 hours of observation plus co-mediation. You also could approach a business coach or practicing mediator for mentoring advice.
Promote your business and consistently network. For instance, develop a professional presence with social networks like Facebook.com, LinkedIn.com, and Twitter.com. Create a website that describes your business and highlights any skills or specialties, such as fluency in a foreign language or success with divorce disputes. Assess your competition and develop a strategy to differentiate your business. Your website might include a blog to answer common questions. Consider joining the local chamber of commerce along with a professional association for mediators. Developing relationships with mediators can help you receive client referrals, such as when a mediator has a conflict of interest and cannot handle a particular case.